The pain is coming in cramping, nauseating waves, both so very wrong and so intimately familiar to him. His breathing is ragged, gasps interspersed by the quiet sobs that threaten to escape him.
“Oz. Oz, breathe.”
“I can’t, I can’t—” he chokes, hopes she understands he’s referring to more than just what she’s asking him to do. Can’t focus his mind on the mantra, can’t get his mouth to form the words, can’t stomach the convulsions for much longer, can’t fight the moonlight.
“You can,” comes the answer, from close, much too close by. The bars of this cage are farther apart than that of old ones—any of them—ever were, and he’s sure he could much too easily slip an arm, leg through them and tear.
Tear with nails that are now biting into his palms, providing the smallest of distractions from the onslaught the rest of his body is currently undergoing. His joints throb as if he’s twelve again, waking up with a bout of growing pain (even if that is something he never was intimately familiar with), and if he had never experienced this before he’d say his blood is on its way to boil itself through his skin. His fists unfurl as his nails unsheathe another half inch, and he has to spend the next few moments keeping himself from digging them into his arms to do away with the horrid itch that’s creeping down along them.
“Oz,” Bay says again, sadness and faith and determination all wrapped into one. Eyes screwed shut, he doesn’t notice she reaches inside the cage (if he had, he would have been at the other side of it now) until her fingers are around his hands.
‘Don’t,’ he wants to say, ‘Don’t, it’s not safe’ but all he can do is let out another watery breath and listen to his heartbeat quicken.
“Shhh,” Bayarmaa says, and her hands move upwards along his arms, bare a minute before but now covered in the beginnings of a pelt. It makes him want to vomit. Either Bay doesn’t notice it—which he doubts is very likely—or is pointedly ignoring the freak show before her and is soldiering through it with enough resolve to hide her fear. She has to be afraid of him. He is afraid of him, shifting back and forth between man and wolf, stuck in the in-between for the past… ages. It feels like ages.
His cramping stomach muscles warn him of another wave coming, sure to take him under this time – when Bay pulls him towards her and captures his lips with hers. And it’s… Oh. Oh.
Memories of Veruca under a full moon flash through his mind, intermingled with the Halloween party at the haunted house that had him waking up in sweat for weeks after. But this, this is so much more and nothing like that.
The experience of Bay kissing him does not silence his mind; in fact, it does quite the opposite. But through his rising, whirling emotions Oz realizes: thunderstorms are welcomed when your house is on fire. One turmoil is being overpowered by another. He briefly wonders what the monks would say if they saw them like this, but he really, really can’t bring himself to care right now.
Kissing through the bars of a cage is nothing if not awkward, but the cold metal against his temples is not what warrants most of his attention. That honor goes to trying to kiss with inch-long fangs stuck in his mouth. They press against the inside of his lips as he keeps them closely pressed together, wanting to feel her as Oz, not the wolf, loving and thankful instead of hungry and selfish. It’s why he’s momentarily startled when he feels tongue dart against his lips, and it takes a moment of insistence for him to open and taste her. It helps to remind himself that even if he were to accidentally bite her it would have no more effect than drawing blood, though he knows with wretched certainty that he’d wake up to much more than just blood if that were to happen.
Still, in the end it’s Bay who breaks the kiss, pulling back ever so slightly but remaining so close to him that he can take in every detail of her with dizzying effect.
“Kyono dagni chopa madribkyang,” she breathes against him. “Paldan ngodrub dampa tobjachir…”
He focuses on the warmth of her breath on his cheek, imagines himself accepting it, breathing in when she breathes out, making her words his own. He finds back his voice, and uses it to continue Bay’s prayer, their offering to the earth. “Dopa yontan kala charpana. Chopa tsogdi wangpo gyagyur chig.”
With each syllable that passes his lips he finds himself calming, and seconds after he speaks the final word he is overcome with the rush of power leaving him. He shudders against the change, no longer a constant but a final shift back. Bay holds him close to her as if the bars aren’t even there, rubs the spasms in his back away with slow circles of her hand. His cheekbones hurt most when they resettle, a short, cracking pain that flashes behind his eyes; the taste of blood on his tongue he figures is either from bitings his tongue or from his teeth being crudely forced back into his gums. If the blood really is his.
“Did I hurt you?” he asks finally.
“No,” Bay says. “Only yourself.”
Part of him is struggling to sit upright, while the other is quite content to remain this near to her for at least a few more moments.
Thankfully, Bay lets him, and reminds quiet for a little while until she asks, “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” he murmurs. Like I’ve just run a marathon. Which is at least partly true, given the strain he’s just put his body through. Transformations are not meant to last a quarter of an hour. It’s only now that Oz is capable of feeling his body again beyond the strain, the panic, and the intensity of kissing the woman he has been falling deeply, irrevocably in love with.
“Do you want to be let out of the cage now?” Bayarmaa asks.
He has to smile at that but answers, “No.” Kissing her cheek he slowly sits upright, moving to pull up his saffron robes that are stripped down to and tied around his waist. He shivers against the cold, feeling the chill of the cold sweat that has accumulated on his bare flesh. “No,” he repeats. “Let’s wait ‘til sunrise. I just… I want to stay on the safe side. Don’t think I could do all that another time.”
“Well, maybe some of it…” he hears Bay say as he pulls the robes over his head. He can’t see her expression with the fabric obscuring his sight, but he is pretty there was a smile accompanying those words.
After the layers of his kasaya are back in place he makes sure his prayer beads also are. Fingering the beads he echoes, “Maybe some of it.”
That warrants a smile that thankfully he can see this time as Bay unfurls her legs and stands up. “I will get you a pillow and blanket to sleep.”
“I’ll be right here.”
When she returns she carries a pillow he doesn’t recognize; inhaling deeply tells him it’s one of her own. He thanks her for it with a brush of his fingers when she hands it to him.
“Do you want me to stay?”
Oz can’t lie. “I would like that. But only if you don’t mind. I mean, if you want to sleep in your own bed…”
Another smile. “But that would be lonely.”
He can’t argue with that.
Oz falls asleep listening to the sound of Bay’s breathing, the only thing breaking the absolute stillness of the monastery at night. When he wakes at sunrise he finds her hand interlaced with his, and hopes morning prayer won’t be until a little while.